Maldive islanders saw low-flying jumbo jet, claim it was missing Malaysia Airlines plane

Published: March 18, 2014
Missing China Vietnam Maldives

Students stand next to a giant mural featuring missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 displayed on the grounds of their school in Manila’s financial district of Makati on March 18, 2014.

JONATHAN PEARLMAN
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Kuala Lumpur — The global hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight shifted Tuesday to a tiny island in the Maldives, where residents spotted a “low flying jumbo jet” hours after the aircraft disappeared.

Several witnesses in Dhaalu Atoll saw a plane heading south that bore the red stripe and white background of Malaysia Airlines planes.

The sightings, reported by a local news outlet, would have occurred more than seven hours after the plane, carrying 12 crew and 227 mainly Chinese passengers, lost contact with air traffic control and took its sudden westward turn during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early hours of Saturday March 8.

“I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We’ve seen seaplanes, but I’m sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly,” said an witness.

Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia Airlines plane possibly spotted flying over Maldives. Google Maps

“It’s not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too.” The chances of another aircraft of that size flying over the island at the time were, according to Maldives sources, very low.

Though authorities are yet to confirm the sighting, the plane’s pilot, Captain Zaharie Shah, is believed to have practised landing at Male International Airport in the Maldives on a three-screen flight simulator at his home. The machine has been seized by police.

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A report in a Malay language newspaper, Berita Harian, claimed Captain Zaharie also practised at three airports in India and Sri Lanka and a runway at the US military base on Diego Garcia.

Police would not confirm the details about the flight simulator yesterday.

However, Peter Chong, a friend of the pilot, insisted that there was nothing suspicious about the simulator and that Captain Zaharie invited many of his friends to use it. “He was not hiding it, he was open about it,” Mr Chong said. “He loves flying. He wanted to share the joy of flying with his friends.”

Captain Zaharie, a 53-year-old father of three, and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, a 27 year-old who was planning to marry his 26-year-old pilot girlfriend, Nadira Ramli, have been described by friends and family as flying enthusiasts who had no known links to extremism or psychological problems.

Authorities in Malaysia have confirmed that they believe the flight was deliberately interfered with and that its communications system intentionally disabled before the plane flew “invisible” for a further seven to eight hours.

China-Maldives

A young Malaysian boy prays, at an event for the missing Malaysia Airline, MH370, at a shopping mall, in Petaling Jaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur

They believe the plane’s sharp turn 40 minutes into the flight and the disabling of the communications system suggest an experienced pilot was in control. But the lack of any motive – and the disappearance of the plane – has left authorities increasingly mystified during a search that has lasted more than 11 days. As Malaysia appealed to countries in the two major search areas to share surveillance data, vital information emerged from Thai air force radars yesterday that revealed clues about the aircraft’s wayward path.

In what was a further example of the secrecy surrounding the investigation, Thailand’s air force said it detected a plane believed to be the missing MH370 flight, seven minutes after the plane’s transponder was turned off at 1.21am.

In a series of inexplicable movements, the flight reportedly headed back towards Kuala Lumpur, then turned right towards the Strait of Malacca – a sequence that corresponds with data captured by the Malaysian military.

Thailand’s Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn said the plane did not enter Thai airspace, and that the data was not released until now because “we did not pay any attention to it”.

China has increased its involvement and revealed yesterday that the 154 Chinese passengers aboard the flight had been cleared of “destructive behaviour”.

Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador to Malaysia, also told a briefing of the Chinese media that Interpol had cleared two Iranians aboard the flight who were travelling on false passports. This left 83 passengers as feasible suspects, including 10 crew members plus two pilots.

A further complication in the search for the plane is that the signals or “pings” from the black box – sent at a certain frequency, and only traceable within a certain distance – will only be sent for a month.

The Daily Telegraph learnt that the aircraft could have been located if Malaysia Airlines had paid just $10 for additional satellite information.

The airline, along with several international carriers, opted to transmit only minimal information rather than pay an additional small fee to transmit detailed flight data. “For 10 dollars, you could have told within half an hour’s flying time where the plane would have gone,” a source said.

australia_malaysia_plane_215647252

Picture 1 of 54

In this photo taken April 29, 2014 provided by the Australia Defence Force, multinational air-crew and aircraft involved in operation "Southern Indian Ocean" are assembled for a photo at RAAF Base Pearce, in Perth, Western Australia. Seven nations, including Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., South Korea, Malaysia, China and Japan, have flew daily search mission out to the southern Indian Ocean in the massive multinational hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. AP Photo/Australian Defence Force, Cpl. Nicci Freeman

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